Tag Archives: Natural History

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos Islands Tourists

Tourists at a Tortoise Sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands.

A Galapagos Giant Tortoise has retreated into his shell as a group of tourists gather in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands  to learn more about this magnificent creature. It was truly thrilling to see these giant tortoises in their natural environment. I remember seeing one in a zoo when I was a child. Children even rode them (I think I even did), which is a bad idea, and of course no longer allowed. They aren’t afraid of humans, but do make a chuffing noise if you startle them.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands.  Here's a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos.   The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately.  There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands. Here’s a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos. The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately. There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The tourists in the pictured group are wisely wearing rubber boots.  Our guide offered us boots, too, but I was happy wearing my comfortable “sporty” flip flops, relieved to let my feet breathe after a long trip.  Bad idea.  I successfully evaded puddles and tortoise poop, but I stepped right onto an ant hill teeming with fire ants, an invasive species in the Galapagos. This was within two hours of my arrival on the island of Santa Cruz. I got about six painful, itchy stings on my toes. I’m no stranger to fire ants, so I know enough to wear closed shoes in grassy areas in Texas, but I wasn’t prepared for the little devils in the Galapagos.

Galapagos is an old Spanish word for tortoise. The signs at this ranch warn visitors not to feed or touch the “galapagos.” The tortoises are now more commonly known as “tortuga” in Spanish. (At the bottom of this post is a link explaining how the islands were named.)  The Galapagos Island archipelago has been described as one of most scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on earth, according to UNESCO in 2001.  My week there was amazing, wonderful and incredible, despite fire ants (and various other mishaps.)

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Poster

This Giant Galapagos Tortoise paused to give us a questioning look as he crossed the road in front of our car in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. He is king in this place! (Or perhaps she is queen!)

 

Baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise Postcard

A yearling baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise, being raised at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. Introduced predators threaten the eggs and young of the Giant Tortoise, so tortoise eggs are gathered, hatched and reared at the station.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Wise old Galapagos Giant Tortoise.

 

About the Galapagos Islands.

How the Galapagos Islands Were Named.

The Difference Between Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins.

About Lonesome George.

GIANT TORTOISE FACTS: The Galapagos tortoise or Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the largest living species of tortoise and the 14th-heaviest living reptile. Modern giant tortoises can weigh up to 5oo pounds (250 kg); even larger versions, now extinct, roamed every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Today, they exist only the Galapagos Islands, and Aldabra in the Indian Ocean. The tortoise is native to seven of the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago about 620 miles (more than 1,000 kilometers) west of the Ecuadorian mainland. With life spans in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates. One of the most famous was “Lonesome George,” who died in 2012, the last Pinta Island Tortoise.

Shell size and shape vary between populations. On islands with humid highlands, the tortoises are larger, with domed shells and short necks – on islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with “saddleback” shells and long necks. Charles Darwin’s observations of these differences on the second voyage of the Beagle in 1835, contributed to the development of his theory of evolution. Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. This decline was caused by exploitation of the species for meat and oil, habitat clearance for agriculture, and introduction of non-native animals to the islands, such as rats, goats, and pigs. Conservation efforts, beginning in the 20th century, have resulted in thousands of captive-bred juveniles being released onto their ancestral home islands, and it is estimated that the total number of the species exceeded 19,000 at the start of the 21st century. Despite this rebound, the species as a whole is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

 

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Environment, National Parks, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Travel

What Does The Fox Say?

After watching this mother fox diligently tend to her young, I think she says “I’m exhausted!”

On and off for many years in the Spring, red foxes have made a den in the rocky ledges of friends’ rural backyard in the Kansas City. This year, there are two adults and six kits. A fox family consists of a male and female adult, plus their offspring, although sometimes a female from the previous litter will help. The gender of the second adult in this family wasn’t clear. The kits (also known as pups or cubs) may be about three weeks old in these photographs, taken April 5, 2014. They are gray and roundish, but are quickly turning red like their parents. Last year when I saw young foxes in early May, they already looked like smaller versions of the adults.

The foxes are very active in this rural neighborhood, and my friend Pat has seen all sorts of behavior, including adults carrying prey, burying it in leaves and then retrieving it; carrying tiny kits in their mouths; nursing the kits; and grooming behavior. Earlier, one of the adult foxes spent about two hours screaming as he ran around the area, possibly as a way to announce his territory. The screaming was so loud that neighbors called out of concern that something terrible was happening, Pat said.
About Foxes.

Click on a photograph to see a full-size version and begin a slideshow with descriptions.

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Filed under Animals, Kansas, Kansas City

Can You Find The Crab?

Can you find the tiny crab, whose coloring matches the large grains of sand of this beach on the north shores of Kauai?

Can you find the tiny crab, whose coloring matches the large grains of sand of this beach on the north shores of Kauai?

I saw this tiny crab, about the size of a grape, skittering across the loose sand of a beach on the north shore of the island of Kauai in Hawaii. When the crab stopped, the crab was hard to spot.  I don’t know what kind of crab it is.  Possibly a ghost or a sand crab.  Does anyone know?

Here's a closer look at the tiny crab that I saw skittering across the loose sand of a beach on the north side of Kauai. When the crab stopped moving, I could barely see it.

Here’s a closer look at the tiny crab that I saw skittering across the loose sand of a beach on the north side of Kauai. When the crab stopped moving, I could barely see it.

About Ghost Crabs in Hawaii.

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Filed under Animals, Photography, Science

Don’t Be a Silly Goose! Fly South for the Winter!

Whose idea was it to spend winter here?

Recently, I was walking Loki, the family dog, when I saw a flock of Canada Geese (a gaggle ?) on a frozen pond in my Kansas City area neighborhood. It was a beautiful sight. The low afternoon sun cast a golden glow onto the melting water, reflecting the geese and the yellow foliage of grass and cat tails. If you didn’t look too closely, you wouldn’t see the goose poop scattered artistically across the frozen surface. I took the dog home and returned with my camera. The geese don’t like paparazzi, so they headed to the opposite side of the pond.

These geese like the neighborhood.  After a heavy snow, I saw the geese gathered on a golf course, taking advantage of a lack of golfers.

About Canada Geese.

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Birds, Humor, Kansas City, Natural History, Photography

How You Can Help Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly on White Swamp Milkweed Postcard  Monarch Butterfly on a Swamp Milkweed Flower

Food and habitat for butterflies are dwindling every year.  You can help by planting milkweed for the monarch caterpillars to eat and nectar plants for butterfly nourishment, says Chip Taylor, entomologist at the University of Kansas and director of Monarch Watch.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a milkweed plant in our neighborhood butterfly garden.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a milkweed plant in our neighborhood butterfly garden. Beautiful golden dots adorn this treasure.

In May of 2012, several people in my neighborhood started a butterfly garden in one of our common shrub beds.   We got a late start, and the summer of 2012 was hot and dry, so we didn’t see much butterfly activity.  Fortunately, the winter of 2012-13 was wet, and the perennial plants revived and then thrived.  We  added more plants, which did so well that they need to be divided and moved apart in 2014 — if they survive the winter.  This summer, I counted a lot of black swallowtail caterpillars, as many as 20 at a time on bronze fennel and parsley plants.  I only saw a few monarch butterfly caterpillars, although the garden has four large milkweed plants.  Hopefully, next year the monarchs will find our garden.  I may order some caterpillars, too.  Here’s the link for ordering Monarch caterpillars: Monarch Rearing Kit.

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Click on this link for more information: One Beautiful Thing You Can Do to Help Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Watch Website.  Monarch Watch is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration.

Monarch Watch Shop.

I’ve written many posts about butterflies and Monarch Watch.  Here’s one about the fall open house at Monarch Watch, which includes a lot of photographs: Butterfly School at Monarch Watch Fall 2009 Open House.

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Massive Fire Near Yosemite National Park

A giant sequoia towers above visitors to Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite National Park. Tuolumne is one of three named sequoia groves in Yosemite.

A giant sequoia towers above visitors to Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite National Park. Tuolumne is one of three named sequoia groves in Yosemite.

A year ago (September 2012) my husband and I visited Yosemite National Park, a magnificent place.  Here are some photos from the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is near the Rim Fire, California’s fourth largest fire since 1932. It’s burning an area more than seven times larger than San Francisco (about 368 square miles), according to an NBC story. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported that the Rim Fire was 75% contained Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013.

The Yosemite park staff posted this on its Facebook page: Giant sequoias are resistant to, and thrive on, frequent small fires that naturally burned every several years. In order to protect the giant sequoias from the extremely intense Rim Fire, crews performed some protective work in the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias just over a week ago (as you can see in this video). Since then, firing operations in the area have provided additional protection. So, while fire maps show the Tuolumne Grove within the fire perimeter, the giant sequoias are safe. 

You can see the video by clicking on Post by Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park Facebook Page

Why a Century of Fire Prevention Means Trouble for Yosemite’s Giant Sequoias

Click on any thumbnail to see a much larger size in a slide show, including Tuolumne Signs in a readable size.

Yosemite National Park video.

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Filed under Conservation, Natural History, Photography, Travel

Moose in Colorado

This moose stared back when I was taking its photo in Colorado.

This moose stared back when I was taking its photo in Colorado.

Swedish photographer Björn Törngren posted some photographs of moose in Sweden on his blog, which reminded me that I hadn’t posted my moose photographs from a trip to Colorado in 2012.

When my husband and I visited the Brainard Lake Recreation Area last year, we were surprised to see moose in Colorado.

Moose are relatively new to Colorado.  According to the National Park Service, historical records dating back to the 1850s show that moose were probably only transient visitors to the area that is now Rocky Mountain National Park.  In 1978 and 1979, the Colorado Division of Wildlife transferred two groups of moose (a dozen each year) from the Uintah Mountains and Grand Teton herds to an area just west of the Never Summer Range near Rand, Colorado.  The moose have prospered in Colorado.  There are now more than 2,300.

All of the moose we saw had antlers, so they were all males.

Wildlife enthusiasts set up to photograph a herd of moose at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Colorado.

Wildlife enthusiasts set up to photograph a herd of moose at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Colorado.

A boy keeps a fairly safe distance from moose grazing near Brainard Lake in Colorado.  Moose are dangerous and unpredictable and often charge.

A boy keeps a fairly safe distance from moose grazing near Brainard Lake in Colorado. Moose are dangerous and unpredictable and often charge.

This is one of my better shots.  The moose were far away and were eating most of the time in tall vegetation.

This is one of my better shots. The moose were far away and were eating most of the time in tall vegetation.

A herd of moose line up to graze in a marshy area at Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Colorado.

A herd of moose line up to graze in a marshy area at Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Colorado.

Herd of moose graze near Brainard Lake in Colorado.

Herd of moose graze near Brainard Lake in Colorado.

National Park Service Information on Moose in Colorado.

Story about moose in Colorado.

Wikipedia: About the Moose.

Drunken moose ends up stuck in Swedish apple tree.

Click on the thumbnails to view a full-size slide show.

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Filed under Animals, Natural History, Nature, Photography